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Billy Hamilton Steals the Show for the Cincinnati Reds

Harkening back to the days of Reds icons gone by, a tidy Wednesday afternoon matinee wrapped up in just over two hours earlier this afternoon.

With a 4-0 victory over the rival St. Louis Cardinals, the Reds displayed “old school” baseball all over the diamond, starting with the center of the diamond, where Mike Leake threw a gem that would have Bucky Walters to Johnny Vander Meer, tipping their caps.

Riding the not-so-muscular back of their short in stature, but gigantic in efficiency starter, the Reds watched as the club they had been unable to figure out was mowed down with relative ease from the former Arizona State Sun Devil.  Eight innings of masterful baseball later and the Reds had seemingly gotten out of dodge, avoiding the dreaded sweep at the hands of the Cardinals.

His stuff will never be overpowering, but when Leake is zoned in as he was today, he reminds the rest of America that it doesn’t take a 95 MPH fastball to get outs.  In fact, he finished the day with only three strikeouts over his eight innings of work.  The other key to his effectiveness was, and has always been, his ability to throw strikes.  Outside of a leadoff walk to Jhonny Peralta in the eighth inning, Leake did not walk a batter, and only allowed four hits.  In a ballpark as spacious as Busch Stadium, limiting hits becomes even more imperative since teams (the Cardinals) are less likely to swing for the fences.

The differences between Great American Ball Park and Busch Stadium are drastic.  Nearly a half-dozen times during the series did I mutter, “That ball is out at home,” no matter who may have hit the ball.  A club built around the three-run home run like the Reds, can fall into traps in such ballparks.  Adapting your approach to hitting based on the ballpark you find yourself in can be more difficult than believed to be.  Just ask anyone who has ever played in Petco Park before the fences were moved in.

Knowing all this coming in made the top of the first even more frustrating.  Billy Hamilton had been mired in a dreadful slump to begin his season and those with little, to no patience, were screaming for a substitute that doesn’t exist.  Hamilton led off the game with a triple that got by Matt Holliday, and then stood his ground over at third as both Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto struck out with a runner at third and less than two outs.  With Jay Bruce tapping out to end the threat, many must have thought, “here we go again.”

Getting the Reds off their 31 consecutive inning slide without a home run was Devin Mesoraco in the top of the fourth.  After stroking two mighty impressive doubles late Tuesday night, the day game after the night game did not faze the Reds now primary backstop.  For the better part of two years, a majority of the fan base has been wondering what Mesoraco’s numbers may look like over the course of a season, or how well he could produce if he had an opportunity to play every day.  The returns are quite obviously very early, but there is no surprise that there are already whispers about the “Punxsutawney Kid” being moved up in the order.

If I had not watched the top of the fifth inning myself, I would be hard-pressed to have believed it.  In the same way we view stories of baseball lore with skepticism, what Billy Hamilton did redefines the meaning of speed throughout Major League Baseball. 

First things first, he lashed a rocket base hit into left field, his second hit of what would ultimately wind up being a three-hit day.  Two pitches later, he slid into second base without a throw for his first stolen base of the season (before swiping his second later in the contest).  Much in the way that the hitters behind him could not bring him in in the first, they repeated the same process this time around.  Taking matters into his own hands was Hamilton.  After Phillips flew out to very shallow right field, Hamilton zoomed over to third base, making enough of an impression on that play alone to draw a stunned reaction from the Redbird crowd.  Had he stopped there, his impact would have been felt as it was. 

A Joey Votto walk later, and there were runners at the corners with just an out in the inning.  Jay Bruce seemingly did not get the job done yet again, popping up so shallow to right field, that second baseman Kolten Wong could have easily made the play, but deferred to right fielder Jon Jay.  Stunningly, with the infield dirt still in the picture when Jay caught the ball, Hamilton rocketed home from third, beating Yadier Molina’s swipe tag at home, quite literally stealing the Reds a run.

Hamilton will dominate the news cycle later this evening; there is no question about that.  His work on the field was not done though.  Dropping down his first infield bunt single of the year, Hamilton wasted no time swiping second from the best defensive catcher in the sport, nearly daring him to make an accurate and timely throw.  Finally, someone hitting behind him came through.  With Kolten Wong having to be glued to the second base bag due to Hamilton’s daredevil attitude of potentially stealing third, it left the entire right side of the infield open for Brandon Phillips to poke a RBI single through that easily scored Hamilton. 

On the shoulders of their two shortest roster members, the Reds picked up a win that seemed to carry extra significance due to the team’s lackluster start.  Thursday becomes the day the team can return home to Cincinnati and strap in for what should be two explosive three-game sets against the two Wildcard winning teams from the 2013 Postseason. 

Friday night down at the ballpark is going to be a game you’re not going to want to miss.  David Price gets the ball for the Tampa Bay Rays, while Johnny Cueto gets it for the Redlegs.  Outside of a Justin Verlander-Clayton Kershaw matchup, I’m not sure you’ll be able to see a better interleague pitching matchup on the year.  Both pitchers are definitive aces and are going to bring their “A” game. 

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